Our Klamath Basin
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group backs canal for California delta
by Samantha Young, Capital Press 1/7/09
SACRAMENTO (AP) - A national environmental group on Wednesday
recommended that California overhaul its water-delivery system by
building a canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
A report by The Nature Conservancy endorsed piping Sacramento
River water around the delta, which is suffering from degraded
water quality and declining fish populations. The conservancy said
a canal could help restore the region's natural habitat, if it has
Water from Northern California is currently funneled through the
delta's fragile maze of levees, islands, river channels and
sloughs. Scientists say the system is susceptible to rising sea
levels, earthquakes and levee breaks that could interrupt key
water supplies to some 25 million Californians.
Various groups also support a new canal as a strategy to avoid
wildlife and water quality problems now blamed on the massive
pumps that pull water from the delta and send it to the Bay Area
and Southern California.
It's the first endorsement of the canal by a major environmental
group and provides a boost to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's
argument that there might be a better way to send water from
Northern California to two-thirds of the state residents.
"We felt now was a good time to help shift the debate from whether
or not to build a canal to how do we build a canal," said Anthony
Saracino, the conservancy's water program director.
Saracino said a canal should be a stop gap measure for the next 50
years until cities around the state develop their own water
Most environmentalists fear water diversions would deprive the
region's fish, wildlife and farms of much-needed fresh water. A
canal is also opposed by delta farmers, Northern Californians wary
of a Southern California water grab and many Democrats in the
state Legislature and California congressional delegation.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, has warned President-elect
Obama's top environmental adviser that a canal could destroy the
The conservancy's report comes a week after the governor's top
water advisers embraced a canal as one of the ways to restore the
delta while also ensuring reliable water deliveries. They
recommended construction begin as soon as 2011 after pending
environmental studies are completed by the Department of Water
The current plumbing system also reverses the delta's natural
flows, one factor believed to have contributed to the decline of
native fish. A federal court ruling is currently limiting delta
pumping during certain times of year in an effort to protect the
threatened delta smelt.
The conservancy recommends California create a new governing body
to oversee the delta, including the operation of a canal. That's
an idea already embraced by water agencies, groups like the
Natural Resources Defense Council and the The Planning and
Conservation League, and the governor's water advisers - although
there's widespread disagreement on how the delta and a canal ought
to be managed.
"It doesn't matter how it's built if you don't manage it
properly," Saracino said.
Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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